By: Sean Flanery, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Twenty games into the inaugural season of Penn State women's hockey the Nittany Lions stand at 7-12-1 with just 13 games left to play and head coach Josh Brandwene has been pleased with the team's progress and believes growth will continue to improve.
"They're progressing at a great rate right now and it's something that we're really pleased with," said Brandwene. "That's all do in part to their effort, how coachable they are, and the type of intensity they bring to the rink every day."
After returning to the ice following their mid-season break, the Lions dismantled the Cougars of Division III Chatham University in a two-game series by scores of 10-0 and 4-0. The two shutout wins will hopefully prove to be a launching point for the team as they attempt to end the season on a strong note.
Just a little over halfway through the season, the Lions have made many noticeable improvements out on the ice in many facets of the game. The penalty kill, as well as the overall defensive play, of Penn State is something that has become apparently better in recent games. The two shutouts this past weekend along with limiting Chatham to only 33 total shots offensively throughout the weekend are both testaments to the defensive effort the Lions have produced in recent weeks.
This season, Penn State has held opponents to only 22 power play goals in 84 attempts, which is an improvement from where the Lions were at the start of the season. Senior assistant captain and defensemen Lindsay Reihl accredited the newly improved penalty kill unit's play to the constant emphasis on defense in practice this season.
"We do a lot of work on the penalty kill in practice," said Reihl. "Coach [Brandwene] is always drawing it up, we're having meetings, and we're learning about it and once you practice it you get it. Doing it in a game is the best practice you can have and that's where we have executed it and it's been going really well."
While the overall play of the defense continues to improve the team as a whole has been the benefactor of the Nittany Lion's sense of togetherness that has been developing since day one. Freshman forward Hannah Hoenshell stated that the team's chemistry is something that has helped tremendously when it comes to creating opportunities on the ice.
"I think we have all come together really well and we have good chemistry," said Hoenshell. "We have played really good defense and that's helped us get more offensive chances than I originally thought we would."
Players on the team have even taken notice to the developed chemistry amongst the team, but it is most apparent to their coach. Brandwene believes the team chemistry developed quickly, beginning with the captains and trickled down from there.
"Their togetherness is something that plays a huge role in their success in day-to-day experience," said Brandwene. "The credit goes to the captains and on down the list to every person on this roster really for being a great teammate and doing the kinds of things necessary to support one another."
Just over halfway through the season, the excellent team chemistry amongst the young Nittany Lions has played a very significant role in why the team stands where it does today. With 13 games remaining consisting of games primarily within the College Hockey America conference the Lions hope to continue to improve.
Currently, Penn State is in a tie for the fifth position with Lindenwood University within the conference, at three points apiece, but trails Syracuse by a mere 6 points. If the season were to end today, the Nittany Lions would begin the playoffs by traveling to either Robert Morris or Syracuse, but the Lions hope this newfound confidence on the defensive side of the ice can affect their seeding come playoff time.
Brandwene isn't concerned over the seeding, or the tournament, at this point in time, but really wants the team to focus on a day-to-day goal of improving each and every practice and game.
"They've made so much progress so far and we're really pleased with that," said Brandwene. "From here on out it's little things on the defensive side of the puck, little things on offense as well in terms of puck possession and decision-making. We want to keep getting better and better every day so we are playing our best hockey at the end of the year."
The Lions hope to continue on that path of improvement as they travel to Schenectady, N.Y. to take on the Dutchwomen of Union University (5-11-3) in a two-game series this Friday, and Saturday. The series with Union will be the first of two road series for the Lions before returning home for a lengthy stretch of home games at Greenberg Ice Pavilion.